What Not To Do: Author Advice from the Trenches

Written by M.J. Moores | October 15, 2015

It’s human to make mistakes; we even tend to learn from them from time to time. The problem with making mistakes as a new author is that they often come back to bite you – hard.

My first mistake: impatience.

I had the glorious dream that my book, my quartet in fact, was ready for the ultimate in traditional publishing – the BIG 6: Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Macmillan, The Penguin Group, and Hachette.

So I started looking for a literary agent…

I did not look hard enough: I, of course, read everything I could afford on how to find the right literary agent (and I couldn’t afford much). I scoured query letters of all quality, size and design online. I looked at well-read blogs (that didn’t require a paid membership) on the best practices and picked out what I felt ultimately represented my style and genre.

I wrote and re-wrote my one page synopsis over a dozen times and got feedback on my efforts at least half that time. Then, I dove into those troublesome choppy waters without a life jacket, trusting I could swim with the best of them… I didn’t use an industry resource like the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents – A book that I now cling to like it’s my first born.

The research I thought I was doing by scouring the internet with my limited abilities felt far more substantial that it actually was. I really only found a few dozen decent agents that matched my ideal before sending out queries three at a time. I thought I had this figured out. I was determined to do this myself without asking for help or spending money I didn’t have. However, when it’s your future writing career, you should give yourself a decent budget and a lot of time to research your resources – it’ll save you undue grief and pressure.

I did not look long enough: I gave up on my dream after 28 rejection letters (a pittance to the minimum of 50 suggested by most agents and industry professionals). I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, why I wasn’t even getting the “we won’t take you because…” responses. I was just getting the “I don’t have time to deal with you” rejections that give no hint or clue.

So I started looking elsewhere at smaller publishers. And I didn’t look very far, very hard, or very long. I tried a few of the medium-sized publishers but got the same response as the agents. Just as I started looking seriously at self-publishing and all its wonders, on a whim I sent a colleague my manuscript. We’d met via a LinkedIn group. I knew her small publishing house had been looking for new manuscripts and even though they were only just starting to branch out into other genres, I asked her if she’d be interested. I mean, I’d built up a rapport with this woman working on an article and getting to know her in the forum; I liked her. What could go wrong? This was what I wanted right? It was traditional publishing after all.

My colleague offered me a contract on behalf of her publishing house that I accepted on a whole lot of faith. Unfortunately, that contract ultimately fell through.

I did not listen to the advice of other writers! Look carefully and know what you want. Don’t sign if you can’t negotiate. Don’t rush.

Had I invested in my reference book from the beginning, and spent a little money to have a professional review both my query letter and my synopsis, I would have felt more confident in the product I submitted. I would have known more about the agents and agencies I reached out to.

Overall, my list of would-a, could-a, should-a’s spiraled back to a lack of patience.

Now, here I am with a dissolved contract having to start all over again (with a new novel!) and not make the same mistakes. I am self-publishing the quartet but my goal hasn’t changed. I want to land a literary agent and earn a contract with one of the BIG 6. I can make this happen. it has been done before. I just need to listen to the advice of those who came before me and have a little more patience in myself and the process.

Take my advice and learn what not to do when it comes to making your dream a reality.

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M.J. Moores began her career as a high school English teacher with a passion for creative writing. She left the teaching profession to work as a freelance writer and editor but was unimpressed with the lack of straightforward, simple (and free) resources available to new and emerging writers; so she started her own writers’ blog (Infinite Pathways) to help her fellow compatriots. M.J. is the author of Publicizing Yourself: A Beginner’s Guide to Author Marketing and two writers guides through Authors Publish. Her debut SSF novel The Chronicles of Xannia: Time’s Tempest edition 2, with Infinite Pathways Press, is now available in print and ebook. http://mjmoores.com